16 September 2018

The Hesse Diamond Jubilee Brooch

The Duchess of Cornwall wears the Hesse Diamond Jubilee Brooch, 2007 (Michael Perez-Pool/Getty Images)

As our September sapphire fixation continues, today we're dipping into the jewelry box of Queen Victoria to have a look at one of her most unique pieces: the Hesse Diamond Jubilee Brooch.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The main diamond portion of the brooch forms a heart shape. Inside the heart is the number 60 (the number of years in a Diamond Jubilee reign) in Cyrillic numerals, which, for comparison purposes, looks something like this: Ѯ. Additionally, there are three cabochon sapphires set in the piece: one at the top and two as negligee-style pendants.

Queen Victoria, ca. 1879, surrounded by her Hesse grandchildren: (clockwise from lower left) Princess Irene, Princess Ella, Prince Ernest Louis, Princess Victoria, and Princess Alix (Wikimedia Commons)

The brooch was a gift from several of Queen Victoria's grandchildren, all of them descendants (and their spouses) of the late Princess Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse and by Rhine. The group included four members of the Russian imperial family: Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna of Russia, along with Alix's sister, Grand Duchess Ella, and her husband, Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. Alix and Ella's brother, Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse and by Rhine, also contributed, along with his first wife, Grand Duchess Victoria Melita (who was also one of Victoria's granddaughters). The group was rounded out by Alice's eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, and her husband, Prince Louis of Battenberg (later Marquess and Marchioness of Milford Haven).

Queen Victoria's Prussian descendants and relatives, pictured ca. 1900; (bottom row, L-R): Prince Adolf of Schaumberg-Lippe, Prince Frederick Charles of Hesse, Prince Henry of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King Constantine I of the Hellenes, Prince Albert of Schleswig-Holstein, and Grand Duke Ernest Louis of Hesse; (top row, L-R): Princess Irene of Prussia, Queen Sophie of the Hellenes, Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Saxe-Meiningen, King Alexander of the Hellenes, Queen Helen of Romania, King George II of the Hellenes, Empress Augusta Viktoria of Germany, Empress Frederick of Germany, Princess Victoria of Schaumberg-Lippe, and Princess Margaret of Hesse

A sidenote: Victoria, Ella, Ernie, and Alix had one more living sibling -- Princess Irene -- but she was part of a different Jubilee gift presentation. She had married a first cousin, Prince Henry of Prussia, son of Queen Victoria's eldest daughter, the Empress Frederick. The Morning Post noted that Henry and Irene joined with some of his siblings to present their grandmother with "a large silver-gilt vase, the lid supporting a figure of Britannia ... inscribed: 'Presented to our beloved grandmother, Queen Victoria, by her grandchildren William-Augusta Victoria, Henry-Irene, Bernard-Charlotte, Adolphus-Victoria, Frederic Charles-Margaret. 22 June, 1897.'"

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In October 1897, the Glasgow Herald reported that Victoria's Diamond Jubilee gifts had been placed on display at the Imperial Institute in London. The brooch was among the numerous gifts displayed: "From their Imperial Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Russia, the Grand Duke and Duchess of Hesse, the Grand Duke and Duchess Serge, and Prince and Princess Louis of Battenberg, is a magnificent brooch in the shape of an open heart, with, in the centre, the number sixty in Slavonic characters, wrought in diamonds, and surrounded by a cabochon sapphire at the top and two large sapphire drops pendant. It is stated that, owing to the unique size and beauty of the sapphires, the brooch is valued at £20,000." The exhibition, which was held in the building's North Gallery, was open for three months, and half of the proceeds went to benefit the Prince of Wales's Hospital Fund. (The building was an appropriate choice for a Jubilee exhibition, as it has been built following a fundraising scheme that coincided with Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1887.)

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After the exhibition, the brooch seems to have dropped out of public view -- for more than a century, if you can believe it! I haven't been able to find an instance of any royal wearing it, including Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, the Queen Mum, or even Queen Elizabeth II. Instead, we didn't see the brooch come out of the jewelry box again until after the Duchess of Cornwall joined the royal family in 2005.

Camilla wears the brooch in Philadelphia, 27 January 2007 (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

Following her royal wedding, Camilla began wearing numerous pieces from the jewelry collection of the late Queen Mother. I don't believe we've ever confirmed that the Queen Mum had the Hesse brooch in her possession, but given the provenance of the other jewels worn by Camilla at that time period, it wouldn't surprise me if the brooch was in the Queen Mother's collection at some point. Above, Camilla makes an early appearance in the brooch in Philadelphia in January 2007.

Camilla wears the brooch in Tokyo, 30 October 2008 (KATSUMI KASAHARA/AFP/Getty Images)

In October 2008, Camilla wore the brooch with a blue jacket and a poppy for a meeting with Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako during a visit to Japan.

Camilla wears the brooch in Newfoundland, 3 November 2009 (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

During her first official visit to Canada in November 2009, Camilla wore the brooch on a coat of midnight blue velvet; unfortunately, the color match of the fabric and the sapphires made the gems recede a bit. The diamond design does pop against a darker background, though, even when slightly obscured by poppies.

Camilla wears the brooch in Oslo, 20 March 2012 (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

In March 2012, the brooch was a natural choice for another 60th anniversary commemoration: Charles and Camilla's tour of Scandinavia, part of Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Camilla wore the brooch in Oslo for a visit to the National Monument at Akershus Fortress in Oslo.

Camilla wears the brooch in Blackpool, 14 December 2017 (Steve Parsons - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Camilla paired the brooch with a midnight blue ensemble again in December 2017, when she wore the piece on a velvet jacket for the annual Olympia Horse Show.